Summer Survival Skills

White Oak and Buffalo Bayous at Main St. after...
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Houston is an interesting place to live in the summertime. When we’re not baking, steaming, or frying in the heat, we have floodwaters to contend with. So much for “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Nerves are frayed, tempers are short, brains are fogged, and schedules get blown to bits.

Everything seems to take longer than planned.  Even simple tasks go into the “Mañana” file.  We beat ourselves up for procrastinating, for being a slacker.  However, taking a cue from your body might be a lifesaver.

I always dread the prelude to football season, which is the state religion in Texas.  In August, the most brutal time of year, practices begin.  “Two-a-days” are a proud tradition that build toughness, which is apparently the character trait most highly to be prized in young men.  And each year, kids die in the heat at football practice.  Too wimpy?  Nope.  Just part of a culture that preaches “ignore your body, or else suffer the social shame.”  Those kids and coaches need frequent breaks, lots of shade, good hydration, and people who care about individuals as well as the team.  In a sport where head-injuries are placed lower on the “priority care” list than a broken limb, workouts and team spirit can be balanced with common sense.  As Moshe Feldenkrais observed, human beings are the only species in the planet that will willingly harm themselves for no good reason.

How to keep in shape when it’s just too darn hot, or too rainy?  It’s a perfect time to vary your routine.  Be flexible in your mind and ideas as well as in your body.  It’s silly to hold yourself to the commitment “I must run 3 miles every day” when it’s actually dangerous, on a particular day,  to do so.  Still want to run?  Do it early in the morning, before it gets hot.  Or, go to a fitness facility with an indoor track, where it is air-conditioned, and run there.  Don’t run or work outside in the heat of the day.  Stay well hydrated.  Consider a walk instead of a run — the benefits are virtually the same, if you just want to exercise.  How about a swim?  Best of all, try something new!  Go to a dance class, try Nia or martial arts for a change.  Your routine will feel fresh for having changed things up.

“Rest” is also a vital element in an active lifestyle.  Many who are dedicated to their particular workout regime see it as a point of pride to “never miss a day.”  And they wonder why their back, neck, or shoulder hurts, willing to put up with it because “It’s not that bad.”  Those pains are like the warning lights on the dashboard of your car.  They are an indicator that you are struggling with yourself and with gravity.  Stop, slow down, check your form and alignment.  Sense where you are straining — a sign of inefficient effort.  If you don’t stop to rest, you just keep on digging a hole for yourself that eventually you will fall into.  Check your calendar and see how long it’s been since you took a day off from your routine.  A day off, perhaps once a week, may not earn you pats on the back.  But it will make it more likely that you’ll return healthy to the gym.

Those summer doldrums are perfect times for a Feldenkrais class.  After an hour of gentle, mindful movement, I feel lighter, cooler (believe it or not), more coordinated, and mentally awake.  I feel energized and ready to knock out the rest of my day.  While I don’t have conclusive proof to offer, my sense is that there are more accidents and injuries in the summer time because more people are out and doing things, and because, for whatever reason, people aren’t paying attention — to themselves, to their surroundings, to a larger, long-term view.   Mindful movement, with awareness, can re-charge your next workout and improve your overall results.

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